It's the big growth area in digital and the one on most people's lips. It's also the one that a lot of businesses still don't ‘get'. So, when it comes to social media, what are the key trends content providers should be most aware of?
If you're investing in social media, customer service is the subject that should be uppermost in your thoughts. While there remains tendency among some audiences to think of social media as just the ‘fun channel', the reality is that Facebook and Twitter have rapidly become serious channels for customers to use to contact brands directly.
In terms of expectation, consumers are way ahead of brands at present. The pace of the social scene is such that if customers post a complaint on Facebook they expect a response within the hour; while on Twitter, it's even sooner.
With social media delivery often sitting within the marketing or PR functions of businesses - and thus not with trained customer service professionals - it will be vital for brands to have a strategy in place to handle the ever increasing number of customer queries through this medium.
Convergence with offline behaviour
We're also beginning to see more of a collision between social media and ‘real life'. In 2011 more and more consumers indulged in a spot of ‘social television', merrily engaging in conversions online as their favourite programmes were on, despite the fact that they wouldn't dream of disturbing the show by talking out loud during viewing.
This is a major example of how social media has affected our offline behaviour and the trend is set to continue. The retail sector in particular is already seeing shopping become a more ‘social experience', encouraging shoppers to post pictures of potential purchases online and get feedback from friends before they buy; or maybe through using location-based services to offer discounts when a certain number of people ‘like' a product in store.
It's predicted that sales from social commerce will reach $30billion worldwide by 2015, a statistic which forces businesses and content providers to ask themselves how big a slice of that pie is theirs.
Research has also shown that consumers are 80 percent more likely to spend money online as a result of a recommendation from a friend. Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter are perfectly positioned for businesses to capture those recommendations, and the challenge going forward is to capitalise on this growing trend.
The use of game-like qualities, tapping into that most human of traits, competitiveness, has been at the centre of many business conversations about how to keep your customers engaged in the social space.
Brands have already deployed badges, points, leader boards and rewards for participation, and in the coming months this style of communication is likely to spread further. Perhaps we will see brands incentivising workplace performance with leaderboards... a Bruce Forsyth-esque world where ‘points mean promotion'!
What's clear is that social media is not just about being fun and quirky any more - it's as serious a digital business tool as SEO or data analysis.
By Amanda Davie, managing director at digital management consultancy Reform